Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Military as a Jobs Program:
More Efficient Ways to Stimulate an Economy
By Ellen Brown
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 27, 2011
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not
fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. . . . We pay for a single
fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single
destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”
–Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the
American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953
In a Wall
Street Journal editorial on June 8 bemoaning the failure of the Obama
stimulus package, Martin Feldstein
Experience shows that the most cost-effective form of
temporary fiscal stimulus is direct government spending. The most obvious
way to achieve that in 2009 was to repair and replace the military equipment
used in Iraq and Afghanistan that would otherwise have to be done in the
future. But the Obama stimulus had nothing for the Defense Department.
You can’t make this stuff up. The most obvious way to stimulate
the economy is to replace military equipment? And the Obama stimulus
had nothing for the Defense Department? When veterans’ benefits and
other past military costs are factored in, the military now devours
half the U.S. budget. If military spending is such a
cost-effective stimulus, why have the trillions poured into it in the last
decade left the economy reeling?
The military is the nation’s
largest and most firmly entrenched entitlement program, one that takes half
of every tax dollar. Even if “national security” is considered our
number one priority (a dubious choice when the real unemployment rate is
over 16%), estimates are that the military budget
could be cut
in half or more and we would still have the most powerful military
machine in the world. Our enemies (if any) are now “terrorists,” not
countries; and what is needed to contain them (if anything) is local
policing, not global warfare. Much of our military hardware is just
good for “shock and awe,” not needed for any “real and present danger.”
Military spending is the very essence of “built-in obsolescence”: it turns
out products that are designed to blow up. The military is not subject
to ordinary market principles but works on a “cost-plus” basis, with
producers reimbursed for whatever they have spent plus a guaranteed profit.
Gone are the usual competitive restraints that keep capitalist corporations
“lean and mean.” Private contractors hired by the government on no-bid
contracts can be as wasteful and inefficient as they like and still make a
tidy profit. Yet legislators looking to slash wasteful “entitlements”
persist in overlooking this obvious elephant in the room.
reason massive military spending is considered the most “obvious” way to
produce a fiscal stimulus is simply that it is the only form of direct
government spending that gets a pass from the deficit hawks. The
economy is desperate to get money flowing through it, and today only the
government is in a position to turn on the spigots; but there is a
tourniquet on government spending. That is true for everything but the
military, the only program on which the government is allowed to spend
seemingly without limit, often even without oversight.
Chalmers Johnson estimated in 2004 that as much as 40% of the Pentagon
budget is “black,” meaning hidden from public scrutiny. The black
budget is so top secret that Congress itself is not allowed to peer in and
haggle over the price. Democratic control of the military has broken
down. The military is being used for purposes that even Congress is not
allowed to know, much less vote on. The U.S. is no longer a
constitutional republic but is a national security state. Foreign
policy is determined behind closed doors by powerful private interests that
use our military presence abroad to secure their access to cheap labor,
markets and resources. At least, we assume that is what is going on.
A declared objective of U.S. military policy is “full spectrum dominance.”
That could well mean dominance over the American people along with everyone
Why is the military’s half of the pie sacrosanct?
Wasteful and unnecessary military programs get a pass from legislators
because the military is also our largest and most secure jobs program, one
that has penetrated into the nooks and crannies of Every Town U.S.A.
If it were disbanded, the economy would be crippled by soaring unemployment,
plant closures, and bankruptcies.
Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of
the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power, writes:
politicians understand . . . that weapons production is currently the number
one industrial export product of the U.S. They know that major industrial
job creation is largely coming from the Pentagon. Thus most politicians,
from both parties, want to continue to support the military industrial
complex gravy train for their communities.
That explains why the
country seems to be permanently at war. If we had peace, the war
machine would be out of a job. Every year since World War II, the U.S.
has been at war
somewhere. It has been said that if we didn’t have a war to fight,
we would have to create one just to keep the war business going. We
have a military empire of over 800 bases around the world. What is to
become of them when the lion lies down with the lamb and peace reigns
Fortunately, there is a way
to solve these problems without maintaining a perpetual state of war: keep
the jobs but convert them to civilian use.
conversion is a well thought-out program that could provide real
economic stimulus and national security for people here and abroad.
Existing military bases, laboratories, and production facilities can be
converted to civilian uses. Bases can become industrial parks,
schools, airports, hospitals, recreation facilities, and so forth.
Converted factories can produce consumer and capital goods: machine
tools, electric locomotives, farm machinery, oil field equipment,
construction machinery for modernizing infrastructure.
been done before. According to Lloyd Dumas in
Socio-economic Conversion from War to Peace (1995):
At the end
of World War II, . . . a large fraction of the nation's output had to be
moved from military to civilian production. . . . Some 30 percent of U.S.
output was transferred in one year without the unemployment rate ever rising
above 3 percent. This experience made it clear that it is possible to
redirect enormous amounts of productive resources from military to civilian
activity without intolerable economic disruption.
In the early 19th
century, when we had no major wars to fight, the U.S. military was turned
into a civil service that built infrastructure for the nation.
A successful modern example is the United
States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the world's largest public
engineering, design and construction management agency. Its mission is
to provide vital public engineering services to strengthen the nation's
security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.
Generally associated with dams, canals and flood protection in the United
States, USACE is involved in a wide range of public works both here and
abroad. The Corps of Engineers provides 24% of U.S. hydropower
capacity and is engaged in environmental regulation and ecosystem
restoration, among other useful projects.
The late Seymour Melman,
a professor at Columbia University, wrote extensively for fifty years on
"economic conversion", the ordered transition from military to civilian
production by military industries and facilities. He
showed that a carefully designed
conversion program could create more jobs than the war machine sustains now.
The military actually destroys jobs in the civilian economy. The
higher profits from cost-plus military manufacturing cause manufacturers to
abandon more competitive civilian endeavors; and the permanent war economy
takes engineers, capital and resources away from civilian production.
Bruce Gagnon writes:
Across the nation colleges and universities are turning to the Pentagon
for greater research funding as Congress and successive administrations have
cut back on scientific research and development investment. As this trend
worsens we find growing evidence that engineering, computer science,
astronomy, mathematics, and other departments are becoming “militarized” in
order to maintain funding levels.
This research and production is
not easily transferable to civilian use, since it has been designed for
tasks that are radically different from civilian needs. And because we
have put so many resources into military production, we have fallen behind
by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of
Massachusetts found that government investment in education creates twice as
many jobs as investment in the military. Spending on personal
consumption, health care, education, mass transit, and construction for home
weatherization and infrastructure repair all were found to create more jobs
per $1 billon in expenditures than military spending does.
Clearly, the half of the budget now going to military pursuits could be
better spent. If we are going to double exports in the next five
years, as President Obama has pledged, we will need to divert some of the
resources poured down the black hole of war to productive civilian industry.
“The Military Industrial Complex at 50”, a conference in
Charlottesville, VA, September 16-18, 2011.
is an attorney, author, and president of the Public Banking Institute,
Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books,
she shows how the power to create money has been usurped from the people,
and how we can get it back. Her websites are